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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Selma S. Lewis collection

Repository: Memphis Public Library & Information Center

Collection Description (CRHP): The interviews of African Americans in this collection examine their life during the eras of segregation and civil rights in Memphis. The interviews focus on how African Americans endured and dealt with life under the Jim Crow system. Included is discussion of the Memphis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the Memphis branch was founded in 1917 and its early years are discussed. In addition, there is some discussion of its work in the 1960s. Maxine Smith, executive director of the branch during this time, is mentioned. Black education, black churches, and school desegregation are among the other topics discussed. This collection will be particularly useful to scholars wanting to gain a sense of African American history in Memphis across the Jim Crow and civil rights eras as it shows the linkages between these times. Thirty transcripts exist of these interviews, and the finding aid provides a summary of the topics covered by each interview. Two of the interviews that particularly address the civil rights movement of the 1960s are those of N. J. Ford and Louis Hobson. Ford, the father of Harold Ford, Sr., the first black Member of Congress from Memphis, discusses his own political activity in the 1960s. Louis Hobson discusses school integration.

Collection Description (Extant): The Selma S. Lewis Collection was given to the Memphis and Shelby County Room by her daughter, Jane Lewis Ross in April 2000. The collection, which includes a wide range of newspaper clippings, correspondence, photographs and publications, provides significant information pertaining to the history and life of the Jewish and African American communities of Memphis. The greater portion of the collection is composed of local Jewish history and biographies. Also included are manuscript copies of Lewis' books, The Angel of Beale Street: A Biography of Julia Ann Hooks, A Biblical People in the Bible Belt: The Jewish Community of Memphis, Tennessee, 1840s-1960s and her dissertation 'Social Religion and the Sanitation Strike.' Also of importance are the transcripts of oral interviews with members of the African American community, which were conducted by Selma Lewis and Marjean Kremer in 1978 as part of the research for the Pink Palace Museum exhibit 'Historic Black Memphians.' These transcripts were given to the Library by Mrs. Lewis during her lifetime. Selma Seligman Lewis grew up in Nashville and earned a bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University. In 1942, Selma and her husband, civic volunteer and businessman, James Marshall Lewis, moved to Memphis, where they reared three children. Lewis went on to earn a Master's and PhD. in American History from the University of Memphis. After years of working to raise public awareness of social issues, Lewis became the first female president of Jewish Family Services in 1962. She served as a Vista volunteer for the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) and a coordinator of the Memphis Coalition for the Homeless in 1972. Mrs. Lewis also worked with Myra Dreifus and others in Memphis to organize the Fund for Needy School Children, which she chaired from 1972-1974. This program helped to provide free or reduced cost lunches for many area school children. Mrs. Lewis served on the board of numerous organizations, including the Memphis College of Art, the Memphis Literacy Council, the Mental Health Society of Memphis and Shelby County, Theatre Memphis, and Facing History and Ourselves. She was president of the Jewish Historical Society of Memphis and the Mid-South and in 1993, she received the Women of Achievement Steadfastness Award. Selma Lewis died in an automobile accident in March 2000. She was mourned by family and her many friends who described her as a courageous woman who made the city a better place.

Digital Status: No

Extent: 2.5 linear feet

Finding Aid URL: External Link

Language: English

Interviewees: N. J. Ford, Louis Hobson

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights


African American churches--Tennessee
African Americans--Civil rights--Tennessee
Civil rights movements--Tennessee
Civil rights--Religious aspects--Judaism
Memphis (Tenn.)
School integration--Tennessee




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   September 26, 2018
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